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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 06/ 4/2010

Florida’s Race to Top application: Not what it seems

By Valerie Strauss

No sooner had Tuesday's deadline passed for the second round of applications from participating states in the Obama administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top contest than we learn that at least one bid isn’t quite what it seems.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that while 54 of Florida’s 67 teachers unions had pledged to support the state’s reform program outlined in its application, several actually made “side agreements” with their school districts that would limit or eliminate some of the promised changes.

Florida came in fourth in the first round of the competition, in which states are fighting for a share of education reform money that can be won with education reform initiatives that Education Secretary Arne Duncan favors.

They include an expansion of charter schools (although the available evidence shows that these non-traditional public schools are in general no better than traditional public schools), linking teachers pay to the scores that students receive on standardized tests (even though the assessments weren’t designed for that purpose), and adopting the newly released Common Core standards for math and English.

Tennessee and Delaware were the only states to win cash in the first round on the basis of their promised reforms, although a few studies later concluded that the decision had been made arbitrarily. Thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia submitted applications in the second round.

It’s unclear exactly how many arrangements like this were struck -- or still may be. Gov. Charlie Crist said on Tuesday, when Florida’s contest application was submitted, that 54 unions had signed on to a “memorandum of understanding."

But a Florida Department of Education spokesman told the Times that the application had noted that three districts had side agreements, and the newspaper had confirmed at least two more.

Some of these agreements give the unions the right to object to -- and the power to stop the implementation of -- some of the promised reforms, the Times said, including the way teachers are paid and evaluated. Those are two rather important reforms.

Others would allow the reforms to lapse after the Race to the Top money runs out (it’s a one-time opportunity, Duncan has said). Of course, the Obama administration sees these reforms as the basis of its education policy, but some of these budgeted-challenged districts say they can’t pay for initiatives when they don’t have the money.

It makes you wonder if Florida is the only state that made deals with districts to water down some of the provisions to help boost the application. Duncan had made a big deal about states needing buy-in from stakeholders to be successful.

That is one of the reasons that a recent effort by the Republican-led Florida Legislature to pass a bill that would have mandated strong changes, including linking more than half of a teacher’s salary to test scores and eliminating the teacher tenure system, was vetoed by Crist, who soon after changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independent.

Teachers around the state applauded Crist's veto, many of them believing he did not support the actual reforms in the bill. He said, rather, that he was concerned the bill did not address issues faced by children of special needs, and that he had some concerns about the loss of teachers' job security and the loss of local control over education.

But he remained in general agreement with one of the most contentious issues -- performance-based teachers' pay that in part links salaries to test scores.

Right after the veto, he appointed a task force to reconsider all of the reforms with an eye toward the Race to the Top application. The proposal calls for at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation being based on student growth, most of which will be measured by student test scores.

I wonder what else we will learn about Race to the Top applications in the coming days.

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 4, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Race to the Top  | Tags:  arne duncan and race to the top, florida and race to the top, florida's rttt application, obama and race to the top, race to the top, school reform and obama, second round and race to the top  
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The only people who know how to reform education are teachers, administration and parents. And they are the ones who should be making the decisions on educational reform - not politicians or business.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 4, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

We know that high stakes tests can lead to cheating. The ability to transfer knowledge and experience from one subject area to another is a sign of education and learning. We need to get a clue.

Whether it's the pursuit of a college degree to get a high-paying job or the pursuit of programs that come with federal funding, education has become less about the student and learning and more about the love of money.

Posted by: speakuplouder | June 4, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, pre-k funding is dwindling in many cities across the United States. Therefore, in order to help our children succeed; it is simply time for parents to step up to the plate. Parents can begin by reading aloud to their children daily. Twenty minutes a day will increase their vocabulary and comprehension. Books are free at the public libraries. Parents can purchase inexpensive educational CDs that teach alphabet sounds, vowel sounds, and much more.

Yes, pre-k for all children would be great…but in the mean time parents, let us do what we can to help our children succeed. Go to and purchase “Teach Me How To Read…So I Can Succeed.” This CD promotes literacy and parental involvement. In addition, the CD is performed by children and is fun and upbeat. . Check out the web site and listen to the sample music.

Posted by: readtomeamerica | June 4, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Do you really think the states are going to use the money Arne Duncan wants them to?

Posted by: aby1 | June 4, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

People who aren't teachers don't understand the objections that teachers have to performance based pay.

It sounds like you would be paying teachers for doing their jobs. In reality, performance based pay means that you are paying the teachers who have the "smart" kids in their classes more money than those who have kids who need help.

Taken to an extreme, the teachers with the easiest classes get the most money.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 5, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

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